Should You Take Vitamins and Supplements?
Many people take vitamins, herbs and other dietary supplements in an attempt to improve their health. Others seek supplements to lose weight or after hearing that they can help with serious medical conditions.
Unlike pharmaceuticals—which must be FDA-approved as safe and effective before they can be marketed—supplements are considered as foods by regulators and are assumed to be safe until proven otherwise. Vitamins and supplements rarely have scientific evidence that they can treat, diagnose, mitigate, cure or prevent disease. Because these products are less regulated than drugs, safe use requires that consumers be cautious and savvy.
Tips for Safe Use:
- Like drugs, vitamins and supplements can combine with other medications in unhealthy ways. Tell your doctor if you are taking any vitamins or supplements and talk to your pharmacist to avoid dangerous drug interactions.
- Watch carefully for side effects.
- Remember, just because something is natural, does not mean it is safe.
- Never rely on a single study or personal story to provide definitive evidence that something improves health.
- Stick to supplements that are essentially unaltered whole foods, like flaxseed and vinegar.
What to Know Before Using Vitamins and Supplements:
- These three organizations all keep regularly updated fact sheets on the most commonly used herbs, supplements and vitamins.
- The NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
- NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- About Herbs, Botanicals & Other Products from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
- U.S. Pharmacopeia aims to help ensure the quality, safety and benefit of medicines and foods.
- Consumer Reports Health regularly reviews supplements (may require a subscription for full access)
- ConsumerLab.com tests and reports on health and nutritional products.
- Natural Products Association participates in quality assurance programs for dietary supplements.
Resources reviewed September 2014
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